How can I stick to my HIV treatment plan?
The most important thing to do is probably the simplest: Go to all your medical appointments. That way, your healthcare provider can help you monitor the medications you're taking, watch out for any side effects, and supervise your general condition.
A treatment plan for HIV consists of medications that make up antiretroviral therapy (ART). There's a lot you can do to help yourself stay on track:
- Talk with your provider about your plan, so you can develop the one that works best for you. Ask for a written copy of the plan, and make sure it details each of your medications, including how and when to take them.
- Find out what side effects to expect and how to deal with them.
- Understand how the treatment plan protects you and your baby from infection and helps prevent the virus from becoming resistant to other medication. Knowing this may motivate you to stay on the plan.
- Talk to your provider about any challenges you face that could affect your ability to take HIV medication. Maintaining a treatment plan can be harder if you're also dealing with substance abuse or alcoholism, unstable housing, mental illness, relationship problems, or other issues.
- Use a seven-day pillbox to organize pills for each day. Fill it at the start of every week.
- Tell your provider about your daily schedule so you can plan your medication to fit in with your life, rather than organizing your life around medication.
- Take your pills at the same time as something else that you do regularly each day – watching the news, brushing your teeth, or arriving home from work.
- Use your phone to set reminders, either with the alarm or by using an app. The AIDSinfo HIV/AIDS Drug Database App bookmarks HIV medicines, allows you to add your own notes about a drug, and has a daily pill reminder feature.
- Ask your family members, friends, or co-workers to remind you to take your medicines.
- Always have access to your medication and keep a spare supply at work. If you're traveling, pack enough to last for the whole trip.
- Join a support group, either online or in your community. Getting advice and encouragement from others going through the same thing helps.
How can I get the most out of HIV medication?
Take HIV medication exactly as your healthcare provider tells you. That means taking it:
- at the right time
- with food, or before or after meals, depending on the advice you've been given
- every day, including weekends, holidays, and even when you're in labor
Taking medication consistently can be difficult. It helps to keep track of what you take and when on a computer, phone, or in a notebook. The important information to track includes:
- the name of each medicine
- the dose
- the number of pills to take
- when to take the medication
With ART, you'll likely take several pills a day, each with its own requirements.
Missing a dose, or taking it at the wrong time, can result in an increase in the amount of HIV in your body, putting your health at risk and increasing the chance of passing the virus on to your baby.
Drug resistance is also a problem with regularly missed doses. Drug resistance means certain drugs no longer work to reduce HIV in the blood.
What should I do if I forget to take my HIV medication?
Don't panic. Call your healthcare provider. In most cases, your provider will say to take the medicine if you just missed it.
Discuss medication at each appointment with your provider. Tell your provider if you're having difficulty following your medication regimen.
Don't forget to mention any side effects you're having. Side effects from HIV medicines are a major reason why sticking to a treatment plan can be difficult.
Let your provider know if your treatment plan is too complicated to follow. Your provider may simplify your regimen to include fewer HIV medicines or to reduce the number of times a day you need to take them.
What else does my healthcare provider need to know?
Tell your provider about any other medications you take. This includes other prescription and nonprescription medicines, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products. Other medicines or supplements may interact with HIV medication. A drug interaction can reduce or increase the effect of HIV medicine or cause side effects.
Tell your health care provider about anything that makes it difficult to stick to your treatment plan. For example, lack of health insurance and alcohol or drug abuse can make it hard to follow HIV treatment. If needed, your healthcare provider can recommend resources to help you address any issues you have before you start treatment.
Visit the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's website for more information and to find an MFM specialist near you.